Columbian Caravels in Jackson Park, Chicago, c. 1900
As someone who delights in Chicago’s metropolitan implications, I love this postcard of Columbus’ caravels parked off the city’s South Side. Spain donated the replicas for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. On the final day of the fair, the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria made a dizzying Chicago launch and landing, towed by steam tugs. Columbus, crew and accompanying monks came ashore near the battleship Illinois, where the Commodore planted a cross and sword, taking possession of Chicago for the Queen of Spain. Horticultural Hall was partly depleted for the occasion so that tropical trees and plants could be arranged along the shore. Indians stationed beneath the pillars of Music Hall were directed to peer cautiously at the strange visitors, with good reason.
Sources: Chuckman’s Collection of Chicago Postcards, v. 3 and “Columbus to Land,” Chicago Tribune, 27 October 1893, p. 2.
Santo Tomás de Aquino, Francisco Herrera the Younger, c. 1656, with Internet icon
In some cases the observance of [the] law is against the equality of justice and against the public good…In such cases it is evil to abide by the law as it stands, and good to overlook the words of the law, and follow the course that is dictated by regard to justice and public expediency. And this is the end of equity.
Saint Thomas Aquinas
T.C.W., age 16, Mendota Juvenile Treatment Center, WI. Richard Ross, Juvenile-in-Justice
In my UW-Madison service learning course Looking Beyond the Law’s Letter, students connect with minority youth whose families, communities and personal lives are entangled with the justice system. Equity–the prerogative to set aside the law’s letter–is a constitutionally vested power that underpins the juvenile justice system and community-based interventions to deter delinquency. Described by Saint Thomas Aquinas as a virtue that sustains the public good, equity is associated with the best and the worst discretionary practices in the juvenile justice system.
Minority youth in Wisconsin’s justice system face some of the worst racial disparities in the nation, according to a 2011 report of the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families. African American, Latino, and Native American youth are much more likely to be detained, charged and found delinquent than white youth referred for similar offenses. Dane County, home to UW-Madison, handles the state’s second largest youth caseload. Disorderly conduct is the primary criminal allegation that brings youth in contact with the system; serious or violent offenses are less than five percent of arrests. Teens who matriculate to the adult criminal justice system, which has jurisdiction over all 17-year-olds in Wisconsin, face a lifetime of discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, voting and jury rights.
Teen Avitars, ArtSpeak/Community Partnerships
To better comprehend these challenges, my students looked beyond the law’s letter, engaging with equity, experiential learning, and digital technologies. Expressive art workshops were organized to mobilize the critical insights of court-involved teens, in collaboration with the Dane County Juvenile Court Program, and community organizations working to ameliorate the impact of the justice system, particularly ArtSpeak/Community Partnerships. Teens and undergraduates collaboratively generated powerful visual and verbal statements, which evolved as blogs, digital comics, audio slideshows, and videos. They will be combined as a multimedia introduction to juvenile justice for teens caught up in the system.
Looking Beyond the Law’s Letter students with the Worm of Conscience, Sinderesis, et al, December 2012 (with apologies to Guillaume de Deguileville).
Monica Raven, “ArtSpeak: Focusing on Focus” (excerpts)
Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Chicago El
I’m currently remediating my book manuscript Extraordinary Remedies: The Court of Chancery and Equitable Justice in Chicago as a graphic history. As I more deeply engage with digital media, I am decidedly less interested in publishing a traditional monograph. And as a scholar with deep museum roots, I find it difficult to tell this story without all the other stuff—objects, images, sounds, performance—essential to exhibitions. In the best of all possible worlds, I would publish Extraordinary Remedies as a multimedia digital project with an academic press. In the meantime, a hard-copy graphic history may suffice. Images will be a central device for linking past and present, siting a metropolitan legal history–ecclesiastical, colonial, and municipal–in Chicago’s 21st-century Cook County court system. I’ve been invited to submit the graphic manuscript to the University of Chicago Press, we’ll see what happens.
Chicago “Dean of Chancellors” Murray Floyd Tuley, c. 1900
Extraordinary Remedies nests local and global state building, focusing on Cook County’s distinctive chancery, the largest in the present-day United States. Chancery or equity—the terms are used synonymously—is a juryless administrative court that can set aside the law’s letter and craft discretionary remedies from the dictates of conscience and alternative legal traditions. A Roman canonical heritage, the court specializes in the legal affairs of persons lacking full legal capacity. Historically, these have included married women, wards, slaves, indigenous peoples, blacks, territorial residents, those deemed mentally or physically deficient, industrial servants, juveniles, and aliens. Chicago and US territorial/extraterritorial jurisdictions have been epicenters for experimentation with equity.
William Howard Taft arrives in the US-occupied Philippines,
where he established equitable criminal courts, c. 1900
Equity poses a central paradox in a nation dedicated to the rule of law and the equality of sovereign individuals. It allegedly met an early US demise, inspiring due process protections and lingering as an extraordinary legal remedy. It is undocumented as a distinctive metropolitan jurisdiction specializing in quasi-sovereign populations. Yet by 1940 equity was the default jurisdiction in civil and non-felony criminal courts nationwide. Equitable remedies are now ordinary rather than extraordinary in vast areas of American law, and discretion pervades the US justice system. Jury trial rights remain enshrined in state and federal constitutions, but their applicability is a complex equation, and trials themselves are vanishing.
18th-Century Courthouse from the Northwest Territory, where Cook County’s chancery jurisdiction was established. The courthouse was reconstructed in Chicago’s Jackson Park c. 1900.
Extraordinary Remedies reveals equity as a powerful metropolitan engine rather than an emasculated legal standard. Beginning in the Northwest Territory, I focus on Chicago—the Metropolis of the West—interweaving US judicial interventions in the Americas and Asia to the mid-20th century. A host of legal actors—including women, blacks, and indigenous peoples—expanded equity’s criminal jurisdiction, replicated its administrative machinery, and set aside the law’s letter, experimenting with alternative legal remedies. Ultimately, the court emerges as a cornerstone of American understandings of the rule of law. Embodying the Christian, imperial, and constitutional authority to decide on the exception, equity powered American state expansion, at home and abroad.
History/Legal Studies 510: Legal Pluralism
This course explores the global diversity of legal cultures, beginning in ancient China and ending with 21st-century migrations. Moving beyond models of state and non-state legal systems, we will consider the multiplicity of superimposed and interpenetrated legal spaces that constitute human societies. We will interrogate concepts such as the rule of law, equity, unofficial law, public policy, private justice, extralegality, and ultimately, the meaning of law itself. A spectrum of evidentiary resources—visual, aural, material, performative and textual—will inform our analysis of the law substantiating polities, families, capital exchange, diasporas, spiritualities, and violence. Case studies include Chinese polyandry, Aztec cartography, Mozambican healers, Filipino revolutionaries, Inuit song duels, Wisconsin tribal and drug courts, Ghanaian slave ancestry, Islamic shari’a, Brazilian messianic trials, Tokyo’s Tuna Court, US lynchings, and cyberlaw. Students will collaboratively develop a globally published Internet site on legal pluralism, both dynamic products of human interaction. Online and in law, we will probe the power of multimodality, mutability, and pervasive distribution.
Image: International Mixed Court, Shanghai c. 1900 (R. Bickers, University of Bristol SP-s01, Visual Cultures in East Asia)
Maintaining social order in imperial China and a zombie apocalypse: a comparative analysis.
LEGAL PLURALISM READING RESPONSE PAPER: LI AND LAW
Hard copy (one page) due at the beginning of class Monday
You are out partying too late, fall into a deep sleep on the couch, and are awoken by UW Chancellor Ward, who informs you that there has been a zombie apocalypse. Half the student population has been wiped out and the Chancellor wants you to take over as House Fellow in an all-freshman dorm to maintain social order. He hands you a copy of T’ung-tsu Ch’u’s “The Confucian School and the Legal School” as he heads out the door, explaining that it has been adopted as the official UW Policy and Procedures Manual. Do you govern the dorm according to li or law? Why? What happens?
As I try to piece together the previous night, raising the palms of my hands to rub away the blurriness in my eyes, I reminiscently mumble aloud “nothing good ever happens when you black out.”
“Tell me about it, but this time it’s a little worse than that.” Now my head flew around in proper fashion, and I began to feel the first tip of those rusty dull knives in the back of my head. The room I was in oddly resembled my old dorm room, and perched on a futon behind me was none other than UW Chancellor Ward.
Chancellor David Ward (courtesy of Thomas More), UW-Madison Photo Library
From the looks of him he was not joking about having a bad night. His suit was badly torn across the chest, both his sleeves had been ripped off and blood and dirt soiled his face. His face was the most captivating; it was blank. He was not even looking at me. He stared into the whitewashed brick walls and emotionlessly explained how bad the night really was…
Chancellor Ward stood up, informing me that because I was the oldest living student in Witte, I was in charge of all the freshmen who had barricaded the dorm from the flesh addicted horde outside.
Witte Hall Dormitory, UW-Madison Photo Library
As he turned to leave, he said he had something for me that would help. I hungrily eyed the 12 gauge shotgun propped up next to the door, but I was severely disappointed when he tossed me a small book labeled The Confucian School and the Legal School. “Are you kidding me!?” was all I could muster.
T’ung-Tsu Ch’ü, Law and Society in Traditional China (Paris: Mouton, 1961)
As I rounded up all the freshmen in the main lobby, I began to explain what I had learned. I explained the school of thought concerning li. I explained that some Confucian teachings preach education of the moral law, music, harmony, and social order. The most fundamental of Confucian beliefs consider law unnecessary and even harmful to society. They claim that education can bring “perpetual ease” with supreme and continuous effort creating a permanently peaceful society.
Woman playing a sanxian, New York Public Library Archives
However, law seeks uniformity by punishment; consequently only causing people to try and avoid punishment and leaving no room for a sense of shame. With law there is no difference between the virtuous woman who commits no crime and the evil woman who fears to commit a crime because of punishment.
Three Chinese “Prisoners” in a Cangue, Visual Cultures of East Asia
At his point, I placated the concerned looks of the rational thinkers in the room. Obviously, these Confucian Zen masters hadn’t read any Hobbs or Machiavelli. People are generally self-interested, and during the zombie apocalypse, if ever, is when people will tend to act the most selfishly. When your neighbor’s brains are being munched on by the local policeman, I do not think you are going to think of benevolence, righteousness, harmony, or the good of society…
To hammer home the necessity of law to the more intellectually inept freshmen in the room, I used the quote from Han Fei tzu saying “An intelligent person emphasizes facts, dismisses what is useless, does not mention benevolence and righteousness, and does not listen to the word of the Confucian scholars.”
With that over, I threw the small booklet out the window.
Chancellor Ward’s fleeing footsteps echo down the hallway and I am suffocating. T’ung-tsu Ch’u’s “The Confucian School and the Legal School” feels heavy in my hands. I have seen my fair share of Zombie movies and the vast majority of them do not end with cute puppies and rainbows.
Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968)
Suddenly I realize I am doomed to spend my last hours comforting distressed freshmen. I decide to suck it up and begin to flip through the manual while mentally trying to recall apocalypse survival tips. My brow furrows as I realize the manual consists of two completely different schools of thought. Which school did the chancellor want me to follow?
I hurriedly pull out my red pen and begin to underline the main concepts. The Confucian School believes that equality is not inherent. Humans are born with different levels of intelligence and that influences the division of labor. Scholars sit at the top while physical laborers receive fewer benefits. I imagine Wisconsin’s strongest athletes zombie-proofing the dorm while the students with the highest GPA’s and I relax and snack on frozen yoghurt.
Witte Hall Dormitory, University of Wisconsin-Madison
The image fades and I feel ashamed. No, as a house fellow I should treat all the students fairly. As for rules, The Confucian School believed that humans just needed to be taught how to be good and if they were not good, then the emperor is to blame. ….
With the help of my new dorm mates, wooden chairs are broken down into boards and nailed to the windows. Food scrounged and rationed. The Law we live by is tacked up on the wall of the common room. It states, “Endangering the lives of your fellow dorm mates is a punishable offense and will result in Zombie sacrifice.”
As UW Chancellor Ward hurries out the back hallway of the boy’s dormitory, only an ominous bloody handprint flickers neon brown as the exit light struggles to stay on. You declare to him “I don’t know what to do!…I signed up to be a house fellow, not to lead or protect these freshmen!”
The chancellor stops dead in his tracks, one foot out the door, and says, “Listen Colin, I know you are not even a year older than most of these kids, but they respect you enough to listen to what you have to say and more importantly you MUST maintain social order. Legal Studies is your major, you should know the first…”
He stops midsentence and immediately starts trembling. Five zombies are running full-speed up Johnson Street screaming “Gophers football rules! Bucky is dead!” “Oh Jesus” the chancellor murmurs, “here are the keys to the dorm…”
Bucky Badger enzombied
“OK, Colin, think…What do these freshmen want? Well, I don’t think I handle a mutiny with only me in charge, and I don’t think they will go for Li Law, me declaring I am above them somehow because I am older and obviously a lot more wise…” Suddenly, you hear the entire floor of boys, wide-awake and rush to start implementing The Legalists Law.
I am well aware that society as it was is no more, social order is tenuous at best and the loss of many persons the proceeding night has led to an all around general deterioration of basic cultural niceties. There is simply too much temptation to commit evil acts for li to be the primary basis through which I derive my authority. The deceased students left behind many valuable items that the survivors covet greatly…
Bucky Badger winter hat, Pipefitter
In the end, the students in my dorm hate me; for my status is low and my punishments are severe and oft dolled out. That said, my dorm is very stable and safe, no more students are lost to the Zombpocalypse and the students quickly understand their place as well as the behavioral parameters that I have laid out for them to avoid punishment. As society recovers and my students grow to fill leaderships roles far and wide they reflect with understanding why my hand had to be so heavy and how my decisions helped bring society back to the point where li could eclipse law as the predominant legal influence.
Martinez Zea, Map of Wireless Networks, Favela da Serra, Brazil
Sociolegal scholars could learn much from cartography, suggests Boaventura de Sousa Santos. The relationship between law and social reality resembles that between maps and spatial reality. Indeed laws are maps: written laws are cartographic maps; customary, informal laws are mental maps. Law, like a map, inevitably distorts reality to establish its exclusivity. Both are privileged ways of imagining, representing, and distorting social spaces and the capitals, actions, and symbolic universes that animate them.
So I asked my Legal Pluralism students to map their world, paying attention to three mechanisms that are attributes of all maps: scale, projection, and symbolisation. Here’s a sampling of their maps from our in-class blog, interwoven with Santos’ reflections:
In his article Law: A Map of Misreading. Toward a Postmodern Conception of Law, Santos asks:
Sociolegal studies often emphasize the normative content of the law.
[Just as maps often build on the normative content:uber-law of Google maps]
I love to ride my longboard which is a long skateboard that is made to go downhill so my map consists of my favorite routes to take to get some serious speeeeed. They consist of quite a few hills in the downtown area. There are many more but these are the ones I go down the most. I’ve topped out at around 40mph so they can really fly.
Normativity is surely the heavy reality of law. But law is also imagination, representation, and description of reality. Where, then, is the non-normative dimension of the normative?
[Here, between the law and education buildings, in this detail from a Sound Map of Bascom Hill]
The sounds of Bascom Hill in the middle of the day are very much unlike most other parts of campus. I started by drawing a map of the hill with the buildings and the street behind it. I then drew the paths and the grassy area on the hill itself. That is the only part of the hill that has to do with sight. The rest of the map, however, is what one would hear if, say, a microphone was attached to each entity capable of noise on all areas of the hill at once. The way I did it was by walking every inch of Bascom Hill in the middle of a weekday and listened to everything I heard as I did, including my own footsteps. The sounds I heard included doors opening and closing, footsteps of students and other people, cars from the street, bikes from the street, heaving breathing of people jogging and running up and down the hill, the heavy footsteps of those people, pages turning in books from people studying on the grass, the wind blowing through the trees, and dampened music coming from people’s earphones. It was very important to me to take note of every sound I heard, because I wanted to prove that one could map most everything on the hill even with their eyes closed…
To be practical, a map cannot coincide point by point with reality. Maps distort reality through three specific mechanisms that are intrinsic attributes of any map: scale, projection, and symbolisation.
SCALE is a coherent forgetting, a decision to include more or less detail. What makes a map so useful is its genius of omission. It is reality uncluttered, pared down to its essence, stripped of all but the essentials.
For me, time is very important. There never seems to be enough time. Having recently turned 20, I wanted to find out where I spent all of my time. This map allows me to visualize where I have spent my time. The circles represent the places: Switzerland, Germany, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. The sizes of the circles are proportional to the amount of time I spent in each place over the past 20 years. The placement of the circles should somewhat resemble where the places are on a world map.
The modern state is based on the assumption that law operates on a single scale, the scale of the state. But multiple legal spaces are operating simultaneously on different scales.
Allie Gardner (detail)
PROJECTION is the second mechanism of representation/distortion. To be useful maps must be easily carried about and stored. It is by means of projection that the curved surfaces of the earth are transformed into planes. The most convenient transformation cannot yield flat maps without distorting shapes and distance relationships.
[This Mercator projection map is not by us, but it is a good example of the distortion Santos is referencing. It is centered along the equator, distorting land masses near the polar regions. Greenland appears to be larger than South America, when in fact, it is 8 times smaller. Similarly, the size of the Soviet Union was distorted in Cold War era Mercator maps, appearing as a larger-than-life-size threat, as in this 2008 Economist Democracy Index map.]
Projections do not distort at random. Each map, each historical period or each cultural tradition of map-making has a centre, a fixed point, a symbolic space in a privileged position around which the diversity, the direction, and the meaning of other spaces is organized.
Matt Kennedy (detail)
Both map projections and legal orders are grounded on a superfact, an interpretive standpoint or perspective. The private economic relations in the market are the superfact underlying modern bourgeois legality.
COLIN TUCKER MOUNTAIN
“A Little Slice of Paradise!” A Fictional Mountain Town in Colorado, established 2011.
This is a map of what my “mountain” would consist of. I would separate the town into tourist on one side, and locals on the other. This would allow a more healthy, family-oriented vacation on one end of town and an Olympic training facility on the other. Mandatory lift tickets upon entry would discourage sneaking onto the ski lift and other crimes. Terje, a historical figure in snowboarding will be next down the road, symbolizing the mountain’s mission personified in statue form.
TWO MOUNTAIN MISSION
Get the tourists to where they want to go without running into them!
2 Mountains, separate but equal!
Season Pass Holders cut to the front of the lift line!
Over 3,000 snowboardable acres!
Open 24/7/365, because we can!
Free hot tubs!
SYMBOLISATION is the third mechanism of map representation/distortion of reality. It refers to the representation of selected features and details of reality in graphic symbols. Iconic signs are naturalistic signs that establish a relation of likeness with the reality represented.
If we look at the historical record it will show that the sign systems used in maps were initially more naturalistic and gradually became more conventional. But even today, maps may be more figurative or more abstract; they may rely on emotive/expressive signs or on referential/cognitive signs.
Obviously, laws are maps only in the metaphorical sense. But, as rhetoric also teaches us, the repeated use of a metaphor over a long time may gradually transform the metaphorical description into a literal description. Today laws are maps in a metaphorical sense. Tomorrow they may be in a literal sense.
Maps also open our worlds to one another. If you are interested in mapping your world, be sure to check out:
Five Ways of Mapping the World, This American Life Episode 110 (4 September 1998). You can see the maps from this episode at Mapping.
Flickr Creative Cartography
Thomas Aquinas contemplated the virtue of setting aside the law’s letter for the public good, a concept that has fostered legal pluralism.
I am pondering the public virtue of a digital media project for a course on legal pluralism. There should be a substantive reason for setting aside the penned word, counsels my sage learning support advisor. It is insufficient to globally post undergraduate writing assignments or the stuff of in-house course websites, for which there is a limited audience. Instead, digital assignments should comprehensively engage the possibilities of the web and have a palpable public purpose.
According to The New Media Consortium, educators should be encouraging 21st century literacy. Unlike written language and print-based authoring—primarily one-way forms of communication—21st century literacy is interactive and multimodal, incorporating visual, aural, and textual elements (1). It implies an ability to understand the power of images and sounds, to recognize and use that power, to manipulate and transform digital media, to distribute them pervasively, and to easily adapt them to new forms. Students should be co-designers and co-producers of digital learning resources, advise Catherine McLoughlin and Mark Lee, assuming responsibility for the continued advancement of public knowledge.
So, my students and I will collaboratively consider our public purpose as we design and produce a digital site on legal pluralism. What resources on legal pluralism are already available in the digital domain? What purpose/audience do they serve? How effective are they? What might we do differently? For those similarly contemplating the e-public good, here are some useful sites:
A Global Imperative: The Report of the Twenty-First Century Literacy Summit
Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media
Digital Media Assignments
Media Scholarship in the Liberal Arts
Media Projects at Dartmouth
Collaborative Digital History Blogs
The History Carnival
The September 11 Digital Archive
Frog in a Well
Legal History Blog
The Cliopatria Awards
Francisco de Herrera (el Mozo), Santo Tomás de Aquino (Saint Thomas Aquinas), c. 1656, Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla
(1) The New Media Consortium, A Global Imperative: The Report of the Twenty-First Century Literacy Summit (2005), 2.
As an interdisciplinary historian studying lawmakers and cultural brokers, I have a special affection for this lavishly illustrated nine-volume codex of eighteenth-century Peru, sent home to the King of Spain by Baltasar Jamie Martínez Compañón, aka the Bishop of Trujillo. The Bishop, who studied philosophy, law, and music prior to his ordination, was a religiopolitical reformer deeply engaged in state administration. Assigned to a troubled region to promote a progressive Bourbon agenda, his utopian plans largely failed to materialize. But in these illustrated volumes—possibly by indigenous artists—the locals appear as church-going, coat-wearing, and profit-producing plebians. The images of Peruvian flora are unprecedented in scope and visual richness. Twenty musical scores are also included.*
The Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes has digitized practically all of the codex images. See also Emily Berquist’s excellent article cited below. In case your Spanish is non-existent, here’s enough information to get you into the collection:
Links to the Trujillo del Perú volumes, and a (very rough) translation of the subjects covered follow below. Volume thumbnails are available below each image if you volver al indice or you can leisurely browse siguiente or anterior images:
- Portraits, maps and plans
- Life and customs
- Fruit trees, palms, flowers, and herbal fruits
- Medicinal herbs
- Four-legged animals, reptiles, and insects
- Fishes of all species, amphibians, and mollusks
- Peru’s indigenous past
* Emily Berquist, “Bishop Martínez Compañón’s Practical Utopia in Enlightenment Peru,” 64 The Americas 377 (January 2008).”Trujillo del Peru in the 18th Century,” Palmeras y Jardines.
“Español con manto,” (v. II, e. 5) and “Laurel diferente,” (v. III, e. 27), Trujillo del Peru, Manuscritos de América en las Colecciones Reales, Patrimonio Nacional, Spain
I recently met husband-and-wife filmmakers Penny Lane and Brian Frye at a law and humanities workshop, who told me of their upcoming release Our Nixon. The film includes hours of digitized Super 8 home movies created by Nixon aides H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, John Ehrlichman, and Dwight Chapin. The originals were confiscated by the FBI during the Watergate investigation and buried at the National Archives. Check out the trailer, or better yet, contribute to a good cause by pre-ordering a DVD or purchasing a custom made, limited-edition H.R. “Bobblehead” Haldeman figurine from Kickstarter, a fundraising platform for creative projects.
According to Penny and Brian, Nixon’s aides filmed big events: hordes of anti-war protestors on the National Mall; legions of adoring fans on the campaign trail; White House performances by Bob Hope, Dionne Warwick, Johnny Cash and Raquel Welch; visits from heads of state like Haile Selassie, Nicolas Ceausescu and Indira Gandi; their historic trip to China; and Tricia Nixon’s Rose Garden wedding. They also filmed each other: Erlichman clowning with Kissinger on the beach, and Haldeman filming his assistant filming Haldeman at the Great Wall of China. It’s a film about the story Nixon’s aides thought they were a part of—the transformation of America—before Watergate proved them right.
Ollie Atkins, Richard M. Nixon Campaign, 1968
National Archives and Records Administration
As a dissertator, I swung between heady visions of the powerhouse monograph I was bequeathing to mankind and stark realizations that I’d written yet another embarrassingly bad chapter draft. As I slid towards the bottom of the curve one evening, a fellow graduate student sent links to a series of Ira Glass videos on the production of This American Life. Ira reflects on the creative process and gives specific advice on how to craft a compelling narrative. I have returned to these videos after more than one discouraging day at the keyboard, and highly recommend them to all writers, within or without the academy.
Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
Those who do creative work, Ira observes, have really good taste, but initially there is a serious gap between their killer taste and what they can’t fail to recognize as their own crappy work. This period may last a long time (it took Ira more than eight years, on par with a dissertator’s learning curve) and many give up without realizing that the gap is an essential part of the process. To narrow it, he recommends producing such a huge volume of work that every once in a while you stumble on something good. Ruthlessly edit out everything else.
Historians spend far less time thinking and talking about the process of writing than other authors. Plot, sequence, character development, drama, and the authorial voice are no less important for our work. Historians and novelists are kin, observes Jill Lepore, but they’re more like brothers who throw food at each other than sisters who borrow each other’s clothes (“Just the Facts, Ma’am: Fake Memoirs, Factual Fictions, and the History of History,” The New Yorker, 24 March 2008). She suggests that historians read a bit more Jane Austen. I dream of a writing group composed of radio broadcasters, fiction writers, playwrights, and historians…